This month AAA Arizona released a report, "AAA warns of dangers facing aging drivers" -- an issue which will be discussed in a program at the Payson Regional Medical Center's Senior Circle from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., Friday, Aug. 1.
The program, offered through AARP, provides easy-to-use, practical information to help families advise their loved ones on whether it is time to limit or give up driving.
The program will cover topics such as warning signs, conversation openers, how to construct a caring and effective conversation about driving, selecting the right messenger and finding other forms of transportation so loved ones can continue to be active and remain part of the community.
The program will be limited to 25 participants. To register, call the Senior Circle at (928) 472-9290. The Senior Circle is located at 215 N. Beeline Highway.
As the fastest-growing population in the country, people aged 65 and older will account for 25 percent of drivers in the United States by 2025, the report from AAA states. However, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, state licensing systems and mobility alternatives are inadequate for these baby boomers approaching their golden years.
To shed light on this issue, the AAA Foundation issued a report which addresses the mobility crisis facing the 65 plus demographic. There are currently 30 million Americans aged 65 and older who are licensed motorists. Nationwide, these drivers accounted for 15 percent of all licensed drivers and 15 percent of all traffic fatalities in 2006, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). During the same year, motorists of the same demographic accounted for 14 percent of all drivers and just under 13 percent of all traffic fatalities in Arizona. In 2006, there were 388 fatalities in the 65 years of age and older demographic.
"Most people assume that older drivers are more dangerous, when as a whole, they are one of the safest driving groups on the road," said Linda Gorman, public affairs manager for AAA Arizona.
"Mature drivers are more likely to wear their seat belts and are less likely to speed, drink and drive, and engage in distracted driving behaviors when compared to other demographics. However, with age, these motorists often face challenges, which may affect their driving ability. For this reason, it is imperative that we take a more comprehensive look at our licensing system and transportation alternatives."
To address the challenges, the AAA Foundation worked with top transportation and health experts from federal and state governments, insurance industry, medical profession, universities and advocates for the elderly. Together, the agencies generated the following recommendations for states and licensing agencies:
• Licensing. Base licensing decisions on functional performance and medical fitness to safely operate a motor vehicle, as measured objectively through screening and assessment. The study found that the average cycle for a regular drivers' license renewal among states is about 5 years, but Arizona's policy doesn't require renewal until the age of 65.
• Standardized training. Ensure consistent education and training for clinicians, licensing personnel and law enforcement to teach them about existing laws, regulations and proper procedures for reporting medically or functionally unfit drivers.
• Recruitment. Increase the number of qualified people who can provide comprehensive driver testing and rehabilitation services.
• Mobility Alternatives. Encourage communities to increase the availability of affordable alternative transportation options and work with DMVs to centrally collect this information and make it readily available to the public.
In addition, the AAA Foundation and partnering agencies also encourage voluntary reporting of potentially dangerous drivers by health care professionals and others, expanding the use of medical advisory boards and enhancing the training for those involved in identifying and protecting high-risk drivers.
"Implementing the recommendations made by the AAA Foundation and partnering agencies while enhancing our existing medical advisory board are instrumental in the future safety of Arizona roadways," said Gorman.
"As an advocate for motorists and traffic safety, AAA remains committed to making sure motorists are able to drive as long as they are safely able to do so. Nobody should have their car keys taken away simply because they reach a certain age," she added.
Aside from improving licensing policies and transportation alternatives, there are a variety of ways mature drivers and their families can find helpful information to deal with the challenges related to driving. Whether a driver wants to evaluate and improve their driving skills in the privacy of their home or with private instruction, AAA Arizona currently offers a variety of driver training programs that can help to assess functional areas of driving as well as redevelop particular driving skills. These products and programs include:
- "Roadwise Review: A Tool to Help Seniors Drive Safely Longer" is a CD-ROM that measures eight physical and mental abilities shown to be the strongest predictors of crash risk among older drivers and provides feedback to guide the user's decision about their ability to drive safely. AAA members can purchase this program for $8.99 at http://aaaazstore.com/ pr/.
- I Drive Safely's Mature Driver Course is an online course designed for motorists 55 years of age and older who want to combine their years of driving experience with new tools and techniques that can lower the risk of collision. AAA members receive a 20 percent discount off the course fee and can sign up by visiting http://www.aaaaz.com/ discounts/retail/idrivesafelymature.htm.
- CarFit is an educational program developed by the American Society of Aging, AAA, AARP and the American Occupational Therapy Association to help older drivers improve the "fit" of their vehicles' safety and comfort. At CarFit events, trained professionals from AAA and other organizations work side-by-side to assist mature drivers with items such as a clear line of sight over the steering wheel, adequate space between the front airbag/steering wheel and the driver's breastbone and properly adjusted head restraints. To learn more, visit http://www.aaaaz.com/news/articles/CarFit.htm.
- Mature Driver Assessment Training Program by Driving MBA, a AAA Approved Driving School, evaluates seniors' reaction time, visual acuity, peripheral vision and motion capabilities through a two-hour driving test. AAA members receive a 5 percent discount on this program. To learn more, call (480) 948-1648 or visit http://www.drivingmba.com/.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is an independent, publicly funded, 501(c)(3) charitable research and educational organization. The AAA Foundation's mission is to prevent traffic deaths and injuries by conducting research into their causes and by educating the public about strategies to prevent crashes and reduce injuries when they do occur. For a copy of the full report, 2008 License Policies Workshop Proceedings, please visit www.AAAFoundation.org.
AAA Arizona, the Arizona affiliate of AAA, provides automotive insurance and auto travel services to nearly 800,000 Arizona members. Annually, AAA's Emergency Road Service responds to more than 450,000 calls for help on the streets and highways of the state, as well as providing insurance, travel and financial services to AAA members and motorists. Since its founding in 1927, AAA Arizona has been a leading advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. AAA can be visited on the Internet at www.AAA.com.